Overcoming Fee Reluctance
by Rennie Gabriel
(County Bar Update, June/July 2001, Vol. 21, No. 6)


Overcoming Fee Reluctance

By Rennie Gabriel, CFP, UCLA instructor, author, publisher and business coach, written at the request of the Law Practice Management Section Executive Committee. He can be reached at (818) 906-2147 or at renniecoach@earthlink.net. The opinions expressed are his own.

Many attorneys, and other professionals as well, seem to have some reluctance to quote their fees or ask for retainers. Where does this reluctance originate? There are only a few reasons, but all of them deal with a fear of losing the client when asking for a commitment. Have you ever been in this situation?

After coaching business professionals for about ten years, I've discovered some helpful concepts. To overcome any reluctance to ask for your fees or retainer, recognize there are three areas that tie together:

  • First, powerfully speak about the benefits you bring to your clients.
  • Second, personally believe what you say and that you can deliver what you say.
  • Finally, market yourself to the right prospects.

Speak Benefits

Before you quote your fees, be sure your prospective clients are clear about the benefits they'll receive. Clients buy peace of mind, tax protection or security for their heirs. They don't buy a contract, IRS defense or an estate plan. People who buy a drill don't want a drill, they want holes -- whether it's in their walls, ceiling or cement.

Speak about what you do -- not something like "I'm an attorney" or "I do business litigation." More powerful alternatives would be to say "I save families thousands (or millions) of dollars in estate taxes." Or "I prevent businesses from taking advantage of your creativity and profits." As a consumer, I'd pay more to save millions of dollars in estate taxes than to have a will and trust drafted.

Write out the benefits you provide. If you are not clear on it, the client won't be either.

Believe in What You Say

It's obvious -- you must also be certain you have the ability to deliver the benefits and results you speak about. If you feel tentative, your prospective clients will intuitively sense that and will respond accordingly. They won't feel comfortable doing business with you and paying your fee.

These first two areas deal with your personality, confidence and attitude. A year ago, I felt a sense of bias on the part of an attorney I interviewed. Even though he said he could be impartial, I didn't believe it. His fee was not the relevant issue; my perception of his integrity was the issue.

Speak to the Right People

Finally, when you quote your fees or retainer, you must speak to the right audience. Is it easier to sell ice to Eskimos or to visitors in Death Valley? If your fees are high for tax advice, are you speaking to sole proprietors or principals of top tier corporations?

Use the following to position yourself to be seen and contacted by your target clients:

1. Identify your target clients and the other advisors with whom they work.

2. What magazines, newspapers and newsletters do they read, or radio programs do they listen to?

3. How can you get articles or interviews in the media they pay attention to?

If you want to feel comfortable quoting your fees and asking for appropriate retainers, you need to speak about the benefits you provide, feel confident you can deliver what you say, and expose yourself in a credible way to your target audience.

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